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CDC touts drop in hospital infection rates, but is the data misleading?

Federal health officials are touting the outcome of a recent report produced by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on hospital acquired infections.

According to Dr. Michael Bell, deputy director of the division of healthcare quality promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "there appears to be a trend toward improvement." It seems hospital infections have declined in recent years.

The report is seemingly great news. Consumers once weary about past hospital sanitation practices can now breathe a sigh of relief that change is on the horizon-but can they?

Does the new information really prove that there is a decline in U.S. hospital acquired infections, or is the report misleading?

The report

The CDC report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, indicates that U.S. hospital infection rates have decreased substantially in the past decade.

Specifically, the data shows that there were 722,000 hospital acquired infections in the United States in 2011; 75,000 of which resulted in death. Previous information published in 2007 revealed a number quite a bit higher. According to that study, there were roughly 1.7 million hospital acquired infections that occurred in the U.S.

The rate is a decrease, but it might not be truly accurate.

Health officials claim that the decline in these infections is due to proactive measures initiated to improve hospital sanitation protocols. However, Dr. Bell says indicates that there are "other forces" involved that have reduced the occurrences-thus casting doubt on the reliability of the new data.

Are "other forces" attributed to the decline?

Dr. Bell says that the U.S. medical landscape has drastically changed over the years. Today, over 60 percent of operations are actually not performed in hospitals but outpatient entities or clinics such as orthopedic surgical centers. Many nursing homes as well have taken on a large chunk of business once conducted by hospitals.

So, it may seem as though the number of instances of hospital acquired infections have decreased since the last study was published in 2007, but the reason may be attributed to fewer patients cared for in hospital settings and not necessarily a drop in actual infections.

Dr. Bell admitted that the recent CDC study included hospital data in the report but not from other entities. However, it remains to be seen just what the data from any future studies will conclude and whether that information will be reliable. Future plans are in the works to broaden the study to include data collection from both nursing homes and outpatient facilities.